Flammable ice: the answer to Japan’s energy drought?

Flammable ice (or methane hydrate) could represent an interesting alternative to fossil fuels in Japan, since vast amounts of methane hydrate can be found buried deep under the ocean around the country.
With few natural energy resources in the way of coal, oil and gas, Japan is one of the world’s greatest energy importers. The country fuelled its energy needs with nuclear power until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011. Since then, very few of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors are in use and the country has had to rely on fossil fuels imported from abroad, to great expense - spending USD 28.9 billion on gas alone in 2016.

However, Japanese scientists may have found a solution: “flammable ice”. The substance may look like ice, but when introduced to a flame, it burns rather than melts. Flammable ice, or methane hydrate, contains frozen natural methane gas, and in huge quantities; one cubic metre of frozen gas hydrate is estimated to contain 164 cubic metres of methane. Japan is interested in this revolutionary energy resource for two reasons. Firstly, natural gas hydrates are a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels, emitting around half the amount of CO2 of coal. Secondly, its location: vast amounts of natural gas hydrates can be found buried deep under the ocean around Japan. Being able to use a domestic resource would give Japan energy security for years to come.

Commercial extraction has not yet been possible, but Japan may be close, having spent about USD 1 billion on research and development between 2002 and 2017. And their findings will be of great importance internationally: according to the United States Energy Information Administration, there may be up to 2,800 trillion cubic metres of methane bearing gas hydrates worldwide.

For further information, please follow the link below.